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What I learned from a quarantine experience

For the past 5 joyous weeks, I’ve been fortunate as I escaped the monotony of Covid life. In early July 2021, I was finally reunited with family and friends in the UK. We’d spent 18 months separated thanks to the pandemic, and I couldn’t wait for it to be all over. The first time I saw my mum again she hugged me like she never wanted to let me go.

It was also great timing to be in the UK. It was the height of summer. The sun was shining, flowers were in bloom, and the England football team were in the final of a major tournament for the first time in over 50 years.

Relax

The rules had just been dropped. You could act like Covid never happened. I’d partied, I’d watched sports, I’d laughed and cried with friends and family, but my life was back in Singapore. My wife and dog were back in Singapore. My business and colleagues were back in Singapore. In early August I had to accept that the party was over.

The rules in Singapore could not be more different. Immediately on arrival, I stared down the barrel of a 2-week hotel quarantine. No more family time. No more fun with friends. No more laughs. I was to be imprisoned in a room for 14 days, not to leave the door for fear of losing my residential status, and with it my business and the life in Singapore I’d spent 10 years building. For 2 whole weeks, I was allowed no guests, no loved ones, no partying, no fun… just 14 lonely nights in a room by myself. I’ve seen enough Prison movies to know that solitary confinement is the worst punishment they dish out, and I was going to pay two thousand dollars for this privilege.

Welcome home

Upon landing I’m tired and weary. I’d had a mask wrapped around my face for 14 straight hours. I groggily stumbled out of the airport for yet another invasive swab test before boarding a bus to my hotel prison…

“Where would I be going? Would I have a balcony? Would I have a window? Could I cope with 14 days cooped up in my cage, or would I go stir-crazy?”.

Fortunately, my fears were short-lived, as I quickly learned I’d won the hotel quarantine lottery. The Grand Hyatt Singapore- a 5-star luxury brand-name hotel beloved by business travellers and luxury seekers. After check-in, I was delighted to see I had a big room, a pool view, and I could take at least 10 steps from door to window. Lady Luck was smiling at me.

It was soon obvious that life was not actually going to be 5-star luxury. The Singapore government caps the quarantine cost at $2,000 per person, for 2 weeks. At roughly $143 SGD (just over a hundred American bucks) a day, there’s little room for luxury.

What’s in store?

The Grand Hyatt normally costs $320 for the entry-level room, which comes with no food or board.

The Hyatt finds itself boxed into a corner: on the one hand, they have a brand that was worth four and a half billion U.S. dollars in 2020.

That brand must be protected

That brand has value – on the other hand, they need the revenue and occupancy.

With a pandemic raging, there are no business travellers to cater for, no holidaymakers to delight, and $143 a day is better than a kick in the teeth.

I felt a bit sorry for them. After all, how can you serve a Hyatt Experience on a Holiday Inn budget?

The first night’s sleep is always the worst with jet lag. Tossing and turning, made worse because I didn’t know what to expect from my quarantine experience. I might have managed 3 hours until the door rang and I wandered over to greet my first meal. Probably because I’ve got a Western-sounding name, I was given a western-style meal as my first breakfast; scrambled eggs.

I peered through the peephole in the doorway to make sure no one else was around, after all, rules are rules. Sat outside my door on a plastic-wrapped chair was a small, dull-looking cardboard box. I opened the door and grabbed it.

The cold, clammy cardboard exterior extinguished my hopes immediately for the contents of the box. The first forkful of bland, cold scrambled egg meant that quickly all hope had been lost. And there was me thinking airline food was bad.

Down in the dumps

With 13 more nights and 42 meals between myself and my freedom, I was down in the dumps. It was sunny outside, but my mood in the hotel room was dark. I hadn’t seen my wife Siy or my dog Bacon in over 5 weeks. With two more weeks to endure, I shovelled in the cold, bland food just for something to do to pass the time.

I snapped a photo of the meal to complain about it on a local Facebook group for people in quarantine. If anyone would sympathise with my experience, they’d be here.

Partly through boredom, partly as a cry for help from fellow quarantinees, I angrily bashed out a Facebook review of my meal to check if I really was alone… fortunately there was a support group for other quarantining travellers to share our experiences.

I got no sympathy. Many told me I was lucky to be at the Hyatt. Some posted pictures of even worse meals. Others suggested better meal choices from the menu, and I closed down the app and just got on with my day.

Making things right

The following morning’s meal was much better. Some fried rice with chicken, and I pepped it up with a liberal dose of sriracha sauce that my wife had dropped off for me on the first day. I figured I should post that to the group too, and at least admit that I didn’t have it all bad, even if the food did need to be spiced up a bit. What happened next surprised the hell out of me.